Even as the government he led was building a city named for him, General Washington knew that monuments are for citizens, not governments. He wrote that building them is accomplished “not through the organ of government, as a political act; but in a mode which will best testify the sentiments which spontaneously glow in the breast of republican citizens.”
Yet the way national parks and monuments have been treated during the government shutdown violates their spirit and purpose, according to a panel during a recent event at The Heritage Foundation.
Open-air monuments have been left open in past shutdowns, so what makes this time different? Our leaders seem to have a serious case of “Washington Monument Syndrome,” Heritage visiting fellow Marion Smith explained, referring to a political tactic in which the government chooses to close the places that will upset Americans the most.
Representative Rob Bishop (R–UT) reports that, although this is a disturbing event to witness in D.C., similar incidents have been happening for some time in the West. The federal government has long been trampling on people’s rights when national parks or public lands are involved.
In recent weeks, the Statue of Liberty, the Grand Canyon, and Mount Rushmore have all been re-opened because their home states have volunteered to foot the bill. The federal government, Bishop argued, should simply transfer control of many memorials and parks over to state or local governments permanently. The states have been perfectly capable of operating the monuments on their own during the shutdown and could continue doing so after its resolution. Their stewardship will likely be improved under local management with increased competition.
Putting states in charge would also remove any temptation for federal officials to lash out at Americans by closing monuments unnecessarily.
George Washington wrote that national monuments are for “nourishing and perpetuating the spirit of freedom and patriotism.” Let’s allow states and localities to manage them. They’d do a better job, anyway.
Emily Gray is currently a member of the Young Leaders Program at The Heritage Foundation. For more information on interning at Heritage, please click here.